Trans coach finds acceptance in small Rhode Island town

 

Stephen Alexander was a typical boy. He loved Transformers and Gobots (but did not find out until later that they were a product of Hasbro in Providence, R.I., just a few miles from his home in Chepachet). He spent hours with the neighborhood kids, playing basketball, baseball and Wiffle ball. “I never wanted to go home,” he recalls.

There was one problem: His parents treated him like a girl. That’s what they saw when they looked at his genitals.

And that’s why Alexander competed on girls teams at Ponaganset High School. He was a superb athlete — one of the best in the school’s history, male or female. He scored more than 1,000 points for the Chieftains’ girls basketball team, winning four consecutive state championships and earning All-State first team honors. He was offered a full scholarship for the basketball team at Stonehill College, a Division II Jesuit school in Massachusetts. But he gave it up, because being in the women’s locker room finally became too unbearable.

Majoring in religious studies, psychology and philosophy, Alexander sought to discover who he really was. His journey of self-discovery took him about as far away from Rhode Island as he could go: Tasmania. There he studied Buddhism. Studying further, through a Semester at Sea program, he finally understood himself as a transgender man.

“I tell people I’ve crossed the equator, the prime meridian and the gender spectrum,” he quips. He says the process took him from gender identity disorder, to gender identity difference, and finally to gender identity feelings.

He returned to his home town, and finally came out to his parents. But Chepachet is a very small place. Soon, he headed to the biggest city in the U.S.: New York.

Everyone knew him in Chepachet. In NYC, nobody did. That’s where he began his career as a teacher. It’s also where he had gender reassignment surgery. His parents, who had taken their own path to understanding their son, were there. Doctors told them that most parents seldom are.

But the pull of home was strong. His sister has two children, and Alexander wanted to watch them grow up. He returned to Rhode Island, and tried to figure out what to do next.

A female friend told him the boys middle school soccer team needed a coach. Alexander stepped in. Soon he was coaching their basketball and baseball teams. Tennis and volleyball followed. He coached boys and girls teams. He loved what he was doing. There were challenges — managing young adolescents is not easy, and their parents can be a handful, too — but that’s part of the joy of coaching.

Though he was in a small town, and most people there had known him as a champion female athlete, he says that being a trans man was never an issue. No one said anything to his face; no one complained to the school board. There may have been whispers, he admits, and perhaps one or two youngsters did not try out for his teams because of the coach. But if that happened, he says, “I never heard about it.”

He worked with coaches he’d gone to school with. He coached boys and girls whose parents he’d played sports with, or been taught by. Some of those adults still call him by the name they remember. They try to call him “Stephen,” but old habits die hard.

Perhaps they’re reminded by the banner hanging in the Ponaganset High School gym. It honors the few players who scored more than 1,000 points in their basketball careers. Alexander’s is there, with his girl’s name. There is one place his name does not appear: the Ponaganset Athletic Hall of Fame. His sister nominated him, but he has not been selected.

Alexander was surprised … but then again, he wasn’t. What people say behind closed doors is not always what they say to his face.

Alexander has a lot to say. He’s created a website called Transition Games (www.transitiongames.com), in part to highlight his public speaking career. “Stephen’s story brought me to tears, and to a new understanding of diversity in sports,” praises a college student who heard him talk.

“It’s so important to have conversations about transforming sports,” Alexander says. “We need to help kids recognize early what happens when we separate the sexes. There’s this notion that boys are better, faster and stronger than girls. Sports is really about finding out who you are, whoever you are, then working together to heighten competitiveness and honor your opponents. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

And Stephen Alexander — a trans man, and boys and girls sports coach in rural Rhode Island — is doing it.

— Dan Woog

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

LGBT acceptance in extreme sports is long in coming

Five-year-old Tedi Bowler was “totally into” sports. But in Duluth, Minn., in the 1980s, she says, “girls were not allowed to do that.” So she grew wary of following her passion.

Two years later, she rode her first BMX bike. That too was a bit odd for a girl. But she loved everything about it — the tough terrain, the danger, the adrenaline rush — and she kept riding.

In seventh grade, Bowler came out as lesbian. “It was a mess,” she recalls. “I was a loner. Plus, I had anger issues.” Being biracial, and born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, added to her stress.

Yet she kept riding. On a BMX bike — also called “bicycle motocross” — she felt free. She performed tricks. And Bowler was getting much-needed exercise.

Bowler gained the confidence to join team sports. She played ice hockey, flag football, softball and basketball, but extreme sports were the best.

At 35, after watching the X Games, Bowler began skateboarding. For more than a decade, Bowler says, “I’ve been able to fully enjoy extreme sports.”

She’s worked two or three jobs at a time, since she was 19. Her Fetal Alcohol Syndrome made it hard to keep any one job, she says, so she has done mostly temp work. The variety appeals to her. “Otherwise, she says, “I’d be bored and agitated.”

“Boredom” is not something that BMX riders, skateboarders and other extreme sport athletes suffer from. They constantly seek the next challenge. For Bowler, that challenge means getting extreme sports into the Twin Cities Pride celebration. And not just for the traditional participants: men.

About 10 years ago, Bowler says, women’s skateboarding was added to the X Games. However, BMX racing still has not made it into ESPN’s annual homage to extreme sports.

Bowler says that, very quietly, women have become a presence in the extreme sports world. But she knows of very few who self-identify as lesbian, or are open about it.

“We’re already being judged as women by the extreme sports community,” Bowler explains. “Most lesbians probably keep quiet. They don’t want one more issue to contend with.”

She assumes there are “tons” of lesbians — and “probably plenty of gay guys, too.” But, she says, extreme sports is one place where homosexuality is still not discussed.

She recalls one aggressive inline skater who came out in the 1990s. Bowler says his disclosure did not go over well.

Google searches for “gay or lesbian BMX riders” come up empty. There are a few online discussions about whether anyone is out in the sport. The level of discourse is not high. “It’s too manly a sport,” is one comment. Speculation about a rider with a pink bike is another.

After Tim Von Werne’s career was cut short under what one magazine called “a cloud of controversy,” gay skateboarders seem to have remained in the closet, too.

Bowler has vowed to increase visibility of extreme sports, and of the lesbians and gay men who love it.

She envisions BMX racing, skateboarding and more as part of the 2016 Twin Cities Pride festival. “I’m tired of walking around every year at Pride, feeling like I’m ignored,” she says. “This is a real sport.”

The celebration at Loring Park already includes several sports, Bowler notes. Minneapolis and St. Paul are filled with gyms; cross-training is very popular. Why not add extreme sports into the mix?

She also hopes her work will bring visibility to the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome community. If others can see that she’s gotten involved in something athletic, daring and fun, they might be tempted to ride a bike or skateboard too.

Dot Belstler is in charge of Twin Cities Pride. Her title is executive director, but it’s not as if she runs a huge staff. Virtually everyone else is a volunteer.

She points with — well, pride — to the day-long men’s volleyball tournament held on Saturday every year. On Sunday there are tournaments for soccer, rugby, touch football, softball and men’s and women’s basketball. The “Studs vs. Femmes” women’s basketball event creates particular energy; bleachers are brought in to handle the crowds that watch.

In addition, many sports organizations march in the Pride parade. “The rugby boys are favorites,” Belstler says. WHAM (the Women’s Hockey Association of Minnesota) “marches” on rollerblades.

Professional and amateur teams staff booths in Loring Park, including the Minnesota Lynx of the Women’s National Basketball Association, and two women’s full-tackle football teams: the Minnesota Vixen and Minnesota Machine. Minnesota United FC — a professional team in the North American Soccer League — offers demonstrations.

But, Belstler says, adding extreme sports may be easier said than done. Ramps and other equipment must be trucked in, and Loring Park is already filled to capacity.

Still, Teri Bowler is undeterred. She has a year to “ride” to the rescue of extreme sports.

— Dan Woog

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

With strides by Collins, Sam and Griner, are the Gay Games still relevant?

Gay Games VII Opening Ceremony in Chicago

The past year marked a watershed for LGBT sports. Athletes at every level — professional, college, high school and amateur — at first ventured, then flooded, out of the closet. Media attention no longer treats gay athletes as exotic creatures, all but unheard of in the real world; stories now focus on more nuanced aspects of their lives. Homophobes are increasingly marginalized, banished from the sidelines to the back row of the bleachers.

In some ways (though we’re still waiting for that first huge-name pro male team-sport athlete to come out), LGBT athletics has reached the point we’ve long waited for: normalcy.

So does that mean there’s no longer any need for the Gay Games?

Thousands of athletes, a hefty lineup of corporate sponsors, and hundreds of paid and volunteer organizers insist there is.

The next edition of the event first held 32 years ago in San Francisco, Gay Games 9, opens at the end of this week, running for nine days from Aug. 9-16 in the Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, area. Patterned on the Olympic Games (but denied use of the “O” word by a legal challenge), the Gay Games are now an international spectacle.

—  admin

WATCH: Dale Hansen’s parting remarks

Dale Hansen’s 15 minutes is just about up, and he’s OK with that.

Last Monday, his pro-Michael Sam commentary went viral. By Friday, he was on the Ellen show (and in Dallas Voice!). And last night, he talked about what a ride it has been. And once again, he proves himself a great ally.

Watch the piece here.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Margaret Cho on coming out as bi, serving as ‘prime minister of the gays’

Drop Dead Diva, EP 504

Every season, the Lifetime series Drop Dead Diva goes out of its way to include a specific gay storyline for its lawyer character. This season’s episode, which aired last night, featured a pro baseball player who is hiding his homosexuality — even though it may get him convicted of murder.

Co-star Margaret Cho and executive producer Josh Berman sat down with the media to discuss the episode, gays in sports … and whether Cho is really the prime minister of the gays.

If you missed the first several episodes, you can catch up either on-demand or on iTunes. You can watch a clip of last night’s episode here. Below is a transcript of the chat with Berman and Cho.

Question: Josh, you tackled gay proms, gay sperm … was gay sports just the next arena that you needed to dive into for this episode?  Josh Berman: Well I think gays in sports is certainly a hot topic right now. We started working on this episode before it became such a prominent issue and getting such coverage in the news. So I’m thrilled that we are hitting this zeitgeist shed again with gay and lesbian issues. I do think that, you know, sports is one of the last frontiers where men and women feel they unfortunately need to be closeted. So it was important for me to address that issue.

Margaret, you’re all over this episode whether you’re helping Stacy with sperm donors or helping Jane with her case .…  Margaret Cho: Terri is always doing anything and everything. She’s kind of like a cross between like Alfred and Batman — she’s kind of like the enabler for everything. But what I really love about this episode is that it really talks about an issue that’s very timely, which is, athletes being able to come out of the closet. And I must note that there is a lot of sexism when it comes to this kind of stuff because Martina Navratilova came out as a lesbian over 25 years ago. Martina Navratilova came out when Reagan was in office. I really want to make sure that her contribution to sports, to the LGBT presence in sports, is really noted. And I’m really, really proud of this episode because it goes into the story about how we look at men in sports and we have to sort of have an idea of who they are and what they’re supposed to be. And I think sports in general is quite a homoerotic art form unto itself. So it’s surprising that there’s not more [athletes who are] out actually, but I love this episode because it really talks about some of these very current issues.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Pro hockey players make sport gay-inclusive

The British rugby star Ben Cohen, pictured, has been the most public straight sports superstar to show support for the gay community and end bullying and homophobia in sports. But even Cohen had retired before he dedicated himself to the cause, and he is European. Which might make the You Can Play project a first: active American and Canadian ice hockey players making public service announcements in support of gay inclusion in sports.

The project was inspired after NHL general manager Patrick Burke’s brother came out as gay. When he was killed in a 2010 accident, Burke (now at the Toronto Maple Leafs) co-founded the project, which has as its mission creating a homophobia-free environment to allow gay players to know their straight teammates will accept them.

You can see some of the videos here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones